Le Choléra: Le Petit Journal, December 1, 1912

Cover of French newspaper "Le Petit Journal" with illustration of the figure of Death cutting down marching troops
Cover of French newspaper "Le Petit Journal" with illustration of the figure of Death cutting down marching troops
Click for full-size

One hundred and three years ago today, Le Petit Journal, a French newspaper, featured an illustration of cholera, which was decimating the troops of World War I: Death cuts through the marching men with a scythe. Notably, the men wear the red fez, identifying them as Tirailleurs Sénégalais. (Tirailleur translates variously as “skirmisher,” “rifleman,” or “sharpshooter”; Senegal was then a French colonial possession in West Africa.)

From a Canadian Broadcast Corporation article:

In the past 200 years, seven cholera pandemics have killed millions across the globe. The seventh is still going on, but advancements in medical science have greatly reduced the number of people who die from it.

…At the turn of the twentieth century, the sixth cholera pandemic killed more than 800,000 in India before moving into the Middle East, northern Africa, Russia and parts of Europe. By 1923, cholera had receded from most of the world, although many cases were still present in India.

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

"Notgeld" bill

From gizmodo.com:

State-issued currency is the scaffolding upon which capitalism was built, but it’s always been prone to mayhem. For instance in 1920s Germany, extreme inflation forced German businesses to actually print millions of their own customized paper bills. Now largely forgotten, this notgeld, or “emergency money,” was once ubiquitous—amounting to an ornately-decorated I.O.U. in Weimar Germany.

Notgeld was a catch-all name for private currency, printed between World War I and World War II in Germany and Austria. There are hundreds—maybe thousands—of unique bills, each created for a specific amount of gold, cash, or even corn and grain. Each printer created (or commissioned) its own design, which ranged from beautiful turn-of-the-century engravings to modernist Bauhaus-inspired typography. The most complete collection of notgeld online comes courtesy of Brooklynite Miguel Oks, whose German ancestors began archiving the bills in the 1930s—thousands of which you can see on his Flickr.

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

So what sparked this proliferation of wildly decorative—and often quite beautiful—emergency currency? There’s a long version and a short version, the latter of which began during World War I, with incredibly rapid inflation spurred by the cost of war. Compounding the problem, the demand for metals used to make weapons and ammunition caused the value of traditional coinage to skyrocket—and soon, banks were printing more and more paper money to make up for the disappearing coins.

Even after the Great War ended, strict reparations and a subsequent depression made for even more inflation—this was Mack the Knife-era Weimar, where hunger and unemployment were the norm. Companies were often forced to issue specialized notgeld to pay their employees, simply because the state-run mints couldn’t print enough money to satisfy the demand for bills. So instead, businesses and organizations made their own—and according to Oks, it was often even more stable than conventional bills, since it was tied to gold or another tangible resource.

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

Fascinatingly, there was also a financial logic to the elaborate decorations that grace many of these bills. Miguel Oks explains:

They made it very pretty on purpose: many people collected the bills, and the debt would never have to be paid. Many were specifically made for collecting, they were called “Serienscheine”, and special albums were sold for the specific purpose of organizing and displaying them. They were printed on all kinds of materials: leather, fabric, porcelain, silk, tin foil…

So the decorations on notgeld bills weren’t just “of their time.” They were actually calculated attempts to create collector’s items—which would thus never be turned in for actual compensation.

Of course, financial instability—and all the social ills that came with it—would play a huge role in the rise of National Socialism. If you look closely, the designs on some of these bills speak to the earliest inklings of Nazi ideology, too, from wounded German soldiers to Germanic mythological figures—innocuous signals of darker times ahead. But they also offer a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of this hard-fought era. Check out some of the voluminous collection below. [Miguel Oks on Flickr; Quipsologies]

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars1

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars2

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

The Intricate Makeshift Money Germans Relied On Between World Wars

Walter Koessler project: An extensive personal look into World War I

Photograph from Walter Koessler Project

Walter Koessler Project by Dean Putney (@deanputney, deanputney.org);
Kickstarter project link:

As I was getting ready to leave home after Thanksgiving, almost two years ago, my mom said she had something to show me. She pulled out a big black photo album from under our coffee table, casually laid it out in front of me, and blindsided me with the most meaningful, wonderful project I have ever undertaken.This is my great-grandfather Walter Koessler’s photo album from when he was an officer throughout all four years of World War One. It’s incredible for many reasons:

  1. Walter was German, and he was an independent photographer. Most surviving photos from the war are from the Allies, and they tend to be propaganda or journalistic. Walter’s photos are very personal.
  2. Walter was trained as an architect. When he left Germany after the war, he moved to Los Angeles and became an art director for some of the first talkie films. His photos are beautifully composed and well-shot.
  3. Photography was going through big changes at the time, and Walter was a major early adopter. Film cameras were fairly new, and he took his in the trenches and everywhere else. WWI saw the first major use of airplanes in war, and Walter took aerial reconnaissance photos from biplanes and hot air balloons. Stereographs were also becoming more readily available at the time, and Walter made his own 3D images of life in the war.
  4. Since Walter moved to Los Angeles so soon after the war, he preserved pretty much everything. The album was made in Los Angeles, and it’s about a hundred pages long, with over 700 photos in it. Since then, the album has been tucked away in Southern California, so it has no mold and has hardly faded at all.

As soon as I saw this, I knew I needed to research it carefully and share it with the world. For the most part, there are no captions for the photos, so that research has been a big challenge. I’ve gone through the album many times, interviewed family members, reached out to people online, and visited one of the places in the album.

My family has also saved a box of about a hundred more stereographs that show WWI in 3D. I’ve since found that my grandma saved hundreds of the original negatives from both the album and the stereographs, and they’re practically pristine. It’s a formidable, and frankly somewhat intimidating collection. Nearly a hundred years later, it seems almost impossible that these things have been kept in such great condition, and I’m so grateful my family has let me take charge of it.

Finally, I think I’m prepared to start the process of scanning and sharing them here. I hope you’ll find it as fascinating as I do.

First scanned photos: scroll to the bottom of each page and click “<<< prev” for subsequent images.